She is a woman who beat all odds to retrieve herself from an otherwise gloomy and tortured childhood. Ellen Chilima experienced sexual and emotional abuse, but rose to becoming an accomplished bridal make-up and hair stylist following many journeys on different career paths. CHIKONDI KASAMBARA spoke with her.
Give me your brief background
I was born Ellen Chilima 27 years ago in a family of six. I am the last born. My father died when I was nine years old and his relatives grabbed all our property, forcing us to leave Blantyre for our village because my mother was financially incapacitated. I went to Mzuzu to stay with a relative and while there, I went to Lunyangwa Girls Primary School. This relation ill-treated me and forced me to work like a slave, giving me no time to concentrate on school. My other relatives did not believe me until they came to visit us one time and saw how I suffered in the custody of this close relation. She died, but the abuse was just beginning. Soon after her death, her husband attempted to rape me on several occasions. That’s when I moved to Zomba to stay with another relation. I went to Masongola Secondary School in Zomba. Professionally, I hold a diploma in marketing, diploma in journalism and I am also a banker having studied banking and worked for CDH Bank. I am currently self-employed as a make-up artist and hairstylist under my label Glamorous Looks which I established after resigning from CDH Bank.
Tell me about your family.
Well, I met with my husband Promise Matatiyo on Facebook. He works as programmes officer for National Youth Council. We used to meet on social networks in wedding groups and other places. We became friends when we were all involved romantically with other people and years later, after we all had broken up with our lovers, we started dating. We got married on August 8 this year. He is instrumental to my success. He encouraged me to follow my dream. It is easy to balance work and family because my work is scheduled. I am usually busy during early hours of weekends and free the entire week.
Why do you keep switching careers?
I always wanted to be a journalist, but I could not go beyond certificate level because of financial problems. I did promotions for company products and worked for some magazines as sales representative just to keep afloat. I applied for different jobs, most of which I fell short of qualifications. I remember when attending the CDH interviews I had to borrow clothes, fortunately I got the job. Thereafter, many job openings followed when companies responded to my applications and invited me for interviews. I got six jobs in a week, but chose to stay with CDH where I worked for four years before making up my mind to settle for make-up and styling.
What inspired you to become a hairstylist and make-up artist?
It is important to be an entrepreneur besides other professional qualifications or employment. I prayed to God to reveal to me what I could do and how to begin. I tried baking and cooking, but I was not satisfied until I settled for make-up. Since my childhood, I have been doing a bit of fashion designing although it was at a small scale. One day, I did a hairstyle which attracted the attention of a friend. She asked if I could do it on her and later encouraged me to consider becoming a stylist- that was also after she saw some of my make-up expertise. I later offered to do a bridal make-up for an acquaintance. Everyone loved it and that’s how I started the bridal make-up and hairstyling business. I was discouraged from quitting my job by many to go full throttle into the business, but I took the risk and it has worked in my favour.
Are you satisfied with what you do?
It gives me great satisfaction to bring out the hidden beauty in my clients. This involves the choice of the right products to use, the right shade, the right hairstyles and even the right clothes for those that are open to be assisted. I mostly work with brides and models, but I also have other clients who just want to look and feel good. I do not do it just for the money. I enjoy
Who do you idolise in the make-up business?
The best I see around the world is Banke Mashida Lawal from Nigeria. I love her even more because she if African, original and her work always stands out. The faces she works on are mostly African and that’s something close to what I do.
Any notable clients you feel proud to associate with?
I have worked with so many people and can hardly remember their names. One thing I have noted is that I keep getting better by the day. However, I would want to pick Priscilla Simama and Stella Chilunjika. These may not be the best make-up clients I have worked with, but I pick them because they were my notable benchmarks to get to where I am. I did Priscilla’s make-up and hairstyling on her bridal shower a few months after getting into this business. When I did it, I could not believe it was me. Yes, now I can do much better than I did then, but that was a big step for me then. Similarly with Stella, her wedding make-up just showed me I had gotten even better. I remember matching her picture with international ones of people done by seasoned professionals and I realised I was there, if not, just a few steps away.
What are some of the challenges you meet?
People are yet to accept that make-up is a serious and professional business. People think you are not worth the amount you charge. Then there are those clients who do not know anything about make-up, but they want to control you. Sometimes it is not the clients, but those around them such as ladies in waiting or bridesmaids having that ruin the job. It is also challenging to find original make-up products locally. What most people claim to be originals are fake and these compromise the quality of work. If you are lucky to find original products, the prices are too exorbitant.
What are your future plans?
I have a lot of plans, but for obvious reasons, I would hesitate to mention them in detail. God approving, I look forward to having a big make-up shop that stocks only original make-ups. I would also want to do special effects make-up, hence, I plan to go to school and study that.
What advice do you give to women and girls?
Every dream is attainable when we trust God. When you get to a tight place and everything goes against you and it seems you cannot hang on a minute longer, never give up. That is just the place and time that the tide will turn. n